Can we protect children from exploitation online?

How to stay safe online? Photo credit:

Tech giants like Google assured the public that they will take effective action to prevent children being sexually abused online. But will it be enough to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in society?

In this digital age, children are increasingly becoming more tech-savvy. However, the easy and often uncontrolled access to the online world might not always be a healthy environment.

According to Ofcom, one in five eight to 11-year-olds and seven in ten 12 to 15-year-olds have a social media account. And those young children who use social media without adult supervision or guidance are more likely to be exposed to the dangers of the dark-net.

The real dangers are hiding on the other side of the screen.
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Earlier today, the Guardian reported that “Google is hiring thousands of new moderators after facing widespread criticism for allowing child abuse videos and other violent and offensive content to flourish on YouTube.” The media backlash came after it was reported that even with the YouTube Kids safety search filter applied, abusive videos and sexual contents were still visible.

Internet Watch Foundation is one of the organisations promoting the importance of online safety for children. On their annual 2016 report, IWF claimed that “it’s a sobering fact that every nine minutes, in the course of their work, the IWF’s analysts encounter a webpage which shows children being sexually abused.”

To the Voice of London, Susie Hargreaves OBE, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “Our mission is to protect children on the internet and ensure illegal content is removed, which is why we have worked for many years with Google and the major companies to keep child sexual abuse off the internet. We are thrilled to see Google is committing to publishing a transparency report and employing 10,000 members of staff in the safety area next year to make sure its customers are protected. We look forward to continue working with them to continue tackling child sexual abuse material online.”

This October, the UK-wide online child abuse operation resulted in almost 200 people being arrested. According to the Guardian, “nearly a third (30%) of the cases involved the most serious offenses including live streaming, blackmail and grooming and 18 of those arrested were said to be in a position of trust, working in areas such as teaching, healthcare and criminal justice.”

Hannah Broadbent, Deputy CEO of Childnet, said: “It is essential that technology companies do everything they can to empower children to use technology safely and responsibly and protect them from sexual exploitation and other online harms. It is encouraging to see steps taken to protect children and we will continue to work with industry, police, schools and other key stakeholders to ensure the internet is a safe place for children and young people. This collaborative work will need to continue as technology develops and new risks emerge, to ensure that we empower children and young people to harness the positive opportunities offered by technology.”

There are different organisations worldwide that offer guidance to parents, as well as anonymous advice to youngsters. However, one of the most important tools is to educate and alert children about the possible dangers online. As evidence shows, the online world puts children’s innocence in jeopardy.


Words: Ieva Sulavaite | Subbing: Pamela Machado

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